Monday, April 20, 2009

We Can't Ignore the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. But Who is the Underdog?

The reasons given for our allegiance to Israel are:

1. Their strategic value

2. They deserve unqualified support because they are weak and surrounded by enemies

3. They are a democracy

4. The Jewish people have suffered from past crimes and therefore deserve special treatment.

5. Israel’s conduct has been morally superior to that of its adversaries.

But how accurate are those assumptions?

1. Strategic Value

Israel is certainly geographically strategic in the Middle East, but can they be counted on? History has shown that Israel will always put their own needs first. They have often worked against American interests, while receiving generous financial and military support from the U.S.
And because of the U.S. support, it has made that nation vulnerable to terrorist attacks from those who have suffered because of Israeli aggression. And it's meant that they, and now us because of Harper's shift in foreign policy, must be accepting of Israeli war crimes, further alienating us from the Arab world.

2. Israel is Weak and Surrounded by Enemies

Israel is surrounded by enemies, most of their own making, but they are hardly weak. According to John Mearsheimer and Stephen Watt in their thesis on the subject.

Israel is often portrayed as David confronted by Goliath, but the converse is closer to the truth. Contrary to popular belief, the Zionists had larger, better equipped and better led forces during the 1947-49 War of Independence, and the Israel Defence Forces won quick and easy victories against Egypt in 1956 and against Egypt, Jordan and Syria in 1967 – all of this before large-scale US aid began flowing. Today, Israel is the strongest military power in the Middle East. Its conventional forces are far superior to those of its neighbours and it is the only state in the region with nuclear weapons. Egypt and Jordan have signed peace treaties with it, and Saudi Arabia has offered to do so. Syria has lost its Soviet patron, Iraq has been devastated by three disastrous wars and Iran is hundreds of miles away. The Palestinians barely have an effective police force, let alone an army that could pose a threat to Israel.

According to a 2005 assessment by Tel Aviv University’s Jaffee Centre for Strategic Studies, ‘the strategic balance decidedly favours Israel, which has continued to widen the qualitative gap between its own military capability and deterrence powers and those of its neighbours.’ If backing the underdog were a compelling motive, the United States would be supporting Israel’s opponents. (1)

And Israel's conduct is only inflaming hatred and leaving them vulnerable to what Chalmers Johnson calls 'blowback'. Expected revenge.
Israel's greatest single political prob­lem is the daily threat of blowback from the Palestinian people and their Islamic allies because of Israeli policies of displacing Palestinians from their lands and repressing those that remain under their jurisdiction. (2)
And even after the Americans received their own "blowback" on 9/11, Bush still incited hatred from the Arab nations, with his silly and insensitive comments. From the Book on Bush by Eric Alterman and Mark Green:

Bush's simplistic nostrums about good and evil did not travel well. While many in Europe and elsewhere viewed the attacks on the towers to be unconscionable, they nevertheless understood the context in which they arose. Millions of Arabs were frustrated by their own lack of personal and political freedom, denied to them by autocratic and corrupt governments that maintained their despotic rule in part through their alliances with the United States. Israel was a particular source of grievance. Al-Jazeera broadcast daily the brutalities that the Likud government, armed with American weapons, visited upon the stateless Palestinians while settlers continued to occupy expropriated lands with the appearance of American forbearance, if not exactly its blessing.

That these broadcasts ignored the Israeli argument that its violence was a response to Palestinian terrorism served only to multiply their inflammatory effect. In Saudi Arabia, home to the majority of the September 11 hijackers, U.S. troops protected a corrupt, feudal monarchy that lived lavishly on oil exports and controlled access to the holy Islamic cities of Mecca and Medina. Osama bin Laden drew sustenance from the wells of hatred these policies inspired. (3)

3. They are a Democracy

Is that really a good enough reason, especially considering that Israel violates many democratic principles:
That Israel is a fellow democracy surrounded by hostile dictatorships cannot account for the current level of aid: there are many democracies around the world, but none receives the same lavish support. The US has overthrown democratic governments in the past and supported dictators when this was thought to advance its interests – it has good relations with a number of dictatorships today.

Some aspects of Israeli democracy are at odds with core American values. Unlike the US, where people are supposed to enjoy equal rights irrespective of race, religion or ethnicity, Israel was explicitly founded as a Jewish state and citizenship is based on the principle of blood kinship. Given this, it is not surprising that its 1.3 million Arabs are treated as second-class citizens, or that a recent Israeli government commission found that Israel behaves in a ‘neglectful and discriminatory’ manner towards them. Its democratic status is also undermined by its refusal to grant the Palestinians a viable state of their own or full political rights. (1)
4. The Jewish People Have Suffered From Past Crimes

This is certainly true but does it give them the right to inflict so much pain on others?
[Another] justification is the history of Jewish suffering in the Christian West, especially during the Holocaust. Because Jews were persecuted for centuries and could feel safe only in a Jewish homeland, many people now believe that Israel deserves special treatment from the United States. The country’s creation was undoubtedly an appropriate response to the long record of crimes against Jews, but it also brought about fresh crimes against a largely innocent third party: the Palestinians.

This was well understood by Israel’s early leaders. David Ben-Gurion told Nahum Goldmann, the president of the World Jewish Congress: If I were an Arab leader I would never make terms with Israel. That is natural: we have taken their country … We come from Israel, but two thousand years ago, and what is that to them? There has been anti-semitism, the Nazis, Hitler, Auschwitz, but was that their fault? They only see one thing: we have come here and stolen their country. Why should they accept that?

Since then, Israeli leaders have repeatedly sought to deny the Palestinians’ national ambitions. When she was prime minister, Golda Meir famously remarked that ‘there is no such thing as a Palestinian.’ Pressure from extremist violence and Palestinian population growth has forced subsequent Israeli leaders to disengage from the Gaza Strip and consider other territorial compromises, but not even Yitzhak Rabin was willing to offer the Palestinians a viable state. Ehud Barak’s purportedly generous offer at Camp David would have given them only a disarmed set of Bantustans under de facto Israeli control. The tragic history of the Jewish people does not obligate the US to help Israel today no matter what it does. (1)
And even George Bush had a brief moment of regret over the suffering of the Palestiniamns at the hands of the Israelis:
In another of these bizarre instances, Bush once found himself confronted by a series of photographs of wounded Palestinian children by Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. Bush reportedly cried out, "I want peace. I don't want to see any people killed on both sides. I think God loves me. I think God loves the Palestinians. I think God loves the Israelis. We cannot allow this to continue." He then grabbed the hands of his guests and asked them to join him in prayer, as both sides looked on in an apparent state of shock. But while God may have loved both the Israelis and the Palestinians as His children, Bush loved only the former. Or rather, only Israel was represented in Mr. Bush's eyes by a "good man"—Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, whom Bush deemed to be a "man of peace." As a result, Sharon, like Mr. Putin, was given a free hand to defy Bush's wishes and deal with his enemies however he saw fit, irrespective of God's purported affections. Virtually all the progress made toward peace under the Clinton administration dissipated as a result. (Pg. 4)
5. Israel’s Conduct has Been Morally Superior

This is an absolute falsehood They have behaved horribly, knowing that they have a powerful friend in the United States.

Israel’s backers also portray it as a country that has sought peace at every turn and shown great restraint even when provoked. The Arabs, by contrast, are said to have acted with great wickedness. Yet on the ground, Israel’s record is not distinguishable from that of its opponents. Ben-Gurion acknowledged that the early Zionists were far from benevolent towards the Palestinian Arabs, who resisted their encroachments – which is hardly surprising, given that the Zionists were trying to create their own state on Arab land. In the same way, the creation of Israel in 1947-48 involved acts of ethnic cleansing, including executions, massacres and rapes by Jews, and Israel’s subsequent conduct has often been brutal, belying any claim to moral superiority. Between 1949 and 1956, for example, Israeli security forces killed between 2700 and 5000 Arab infiltrators, the overwhelming majority of them unarmed. The IDF murdered hundreds of Egyptian prisoners of war in both the 1956 and 1967 wars, while in 1967, it expelled between 100,000 and 260,000 Palestinians from the newly conquered West Bank, and drove 80,000 Syrians from the Golan Heights.

During the first intifada, the IDF distributed truncheons to its troops and encouraged them to break the bones of Palestinian protesters. The Swedish branch of Save the Children estimated that ‘23,600 to 29,900 children required medical treatment for their beating injuries in the first two years of the intifada.’ Nearly a third of them were aged ten or under. The response to the second intifada has been even more violent, leading Ha’aretz to declare that ‘the IDF … is turning into a killing machine whose efficiency is awe-inspiring, yet shocking.’ The IDF fired one million bullets in the first days of the uprising. Since then, for every Israeli lost, Israel has killed 3.4 Palestinians, the majority of whom have been innocent bystanders; the ratio of Palestinian to Israeli children killed is even higher (5.7:1). It is also worth bearing in mind that the Zionists relied on terrorist bombs to drive the British from Palestine, and that Yitzhak Shamir, once a terrorist and later prime minister, declared that ‘neither Jewish ethics nor Jewish tradition can disqualify terrorism as a means of combat.’

The Palestinian resort to terrorism is wrong but it isn’t surprising. The Palestinians believe they have no other way to force Israeli concessions. As Ehud Barak once admitted, had he been born a Palestinian, he ‘would have joined a terrorist organisation’. (1)

It's time to change our foreign policy to reflect Canadian values and not give so much support to a foreign nation who is breaking all the rules of common decency.


1. The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy, By: John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, London Review of Books, March 23, 2006

2. Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire, By Chalmers Johnson, Metropolitan Books, 2000, ISBN: 978-0-8050-7559-5, Pg. 11

3. The Book on Bush: How George W. (mis) Leads America, By Eric Alterman and Mark Green, Penguin Books, 2004, ISBN: 0-670-03273-5, Pg. 231

4. Alterman/Green, Pg. 192

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